Manipur-The Missing 1528: Part 2
The concluding part, where we talk about how Manipur might just achieve justice.
On November 2, 2000, 17-year old Sinam Chandramani was waiting for a bus to go for his physics tution. His brother, 27-year old Sinam Robinson was taking their aunt to her home. The Assam Rifles retaliated after their convoy came under attack from insurgents that afternoon, killing 10 civillians on the spot, including both the brothers. When Sinam Chandramani was 5 years old, in 1988, he had received a Bravery Award from then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for saving another child from drowning [Scroll.in]
After hearing the case filed by the EEVFAM, the Supreme Court set up a three-member panel in January 2013 to investigate six of the alleged 1,528 cases. Three months later, in April 2013, the three-member commission, comprising of retired SC judge Santosh Hegde, former Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and former Director General of Police (Karnataka) Ajay Kumar Singh, submitted its report to the Supreme Court (a copy of it is available here). As the Guardian summarized:
All six were quickly determined to have been staged. Far from being hardened militants, none of the victims even had a criminal record [The Guardian]
In response to this, on the next date of the hearing (April 9, 2013), the Centre responded that the commission’s report was being examined at the highest levels in the Army headquarters, the Home and Defence Ministries. Note the date: this was the Congress still in power.
On March 20, 2008, Thokcham Kiran was having lunch at home when police commandos entered his house and took him away. “My son was an MA first class. He never talked or did unnecessary things. I don’t know why he was taken away and why he was killed,” his father says. The next day, neighbours saw reports on TV that Kiran had been killed. The young man was 31 years old and is survived by his wife and three children [The Wire]
Slowly, more pieces started coming to light; the Judicial Inquiry Commission had submitted a report based on its investigation into Thangjam Manorama‘s death on December 2004. It was only when the Supreme Court asked for it in November 2014, in relation to a PIL (NOTE: they probably are referring to the above case, but unclear), that its contents came to light. The 113-page report makes it clear that she was tortured, hinted at the possibility of a sexual assault, and stated that the account of the team which captured her (that she was shot on her legs while escaping) was false; of the 16 bullets fired, not one hit her in the legs. A couple of months earlier, India Today featured two reports from two separate panels of judges, both confirming that certain members of the armed forces had been involved in cases of rape and killings of civillians. One case involved the rape of a 15 year old schoolgirl, Sanjita Devi, by two army personnel in October 2003; the girl committed suicide on the same day.
The December of the same year saw the state judiciary get into the action; the Manipur High Court ordered Rs. 5 lakh compensation for each of the families killed by the Assam Rifles in Malom in 2000. Apparently, the legal initiatives have shown results on the ground; the deaths in the state (related to insurgency) dropped to 48 in 2014, from 485 in 2008.
On July 18, 2013, residents of Sora village heard some shouting and firing from a nearby village. They gathered and proceeded to get closer when a police car drove out and began firing at them. Twelve-year-old Nayimudin was a casualty that night. His father, Mohammed Nayinmuddin has not been able to get either the postmortem report or the copy of the FIR filed [The Wire]
On July 2015, the EEVFAM petition came back in front of the SC; the court asked the Centre, the state government as well as the NHRC to help the petitioners (i.e. EEVFAM) prepare a comprehensive chart of all the cases. Separately, on August 11 the Court also asked the Centre and the state governments to explain why no cases were filed against members of the security forces involved in fake encounters.
On the date of the next hearing, October 5, the petitioners argued for the right to prosecute the personnel from the armed forces and cited laws which would allow for the same; there was also a demand for a Special Investigative Team to be set up. The Court asked for reports to be filed by October 29.
The arguments continued; on December 3, the Centre said that
“The army is only discharging its sovereign function of defending the country from external aggression and terrorist attacks, it cannot be blamed if some people are killed. The killings are part of the sovereign function discharged by the Union of India through the army,”
It also rejected the findings of the Hegde Commission.
On December 8, the petitioners asked: “What kind of war is this? Who is the enemy?”. Also, noting the non-payment of monetary compensation, the Supreme Court hiked the amount to be paid, from Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 5.5 lakh.
On July 2, 2012, Lhinjaneng Haokip was pregnant with the youngest of her five children when her husband, Jhamkojang Haokip left for work. He came back dead, with his clothes changed to military fatigues [The Wire]
On 7 April, the Supreme Court gave a list of 265 killings in the state (from a shortened list of 655 which the EEVFAM took from the original 1,528), and asked the Centre and the state government to segregate cases concerning the armed forces and the state police, respectively; the Centre said that 70 cases pertained to the armed forces, while all the rest may concern the state police. Then, on 12 April 2017, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a curative petition from the Centre regarding its earlier order regarding the AFSPA ruling; the curative petition stated that the Army would be unable to carry out its operations if all the involved split-second decisions had to be analyzed legally later. This was especially significant because the Court had scheduled the hearing of the case for three successive days, beginning April 18.
Over the course of these three days, the Court began by questioning the silence of the armed forces regarding the allegations of rape and torture, and the state government’s inaction. The state government responded that it had not filed FIRs in such cases as the High Court had not directed it to, but that it would do the same now. The Court also rejected the Centre’s plea on not reopening cases which were more than a decade old. Lastly, the Court said that it would start with investigating three cases from 2003:
It appears to us that three cases need to be probed by an independent team to find out the truth. The probe will take time but it is needed as judicial inquiry and ( the Army’s) court of inquiry came to two divergent findings [KanglaOnline]
(The three cases are of 32-year old Thangjam Manorama, 75-year old retired school teacher, LD Rengtuwian), and 15-year old Sanjita Devi. You can read about them here)
On the 20th, the Army said that FIRs against it would affect the Army’s operations; it also said that the local bias had led to it being found guilty, as:
Whether it’s Jammu and Kashmir or Manipur, we are facing the same local bias. Why doesn’t any judicial inquiry ever exonerate the Army? These inquiries (have) never said that Army did the correct thing. Army is facing problems due to bias in such inquiries [IndiaTV]
The Supreme Court also asked
the parties including the Centre and Manipur to suggest five names each of officials, ex-officials whom they fit are suitable for Special Investigating Team (SIT) to be constituted to investigate such cases….after perusing the names, the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the point of lodging of FIR and constituting a SIT for investigation into the killing in which judicial inquiries have been conducted [IndiaTV]
Today, the rebellion in the Imphal Valley seems decisively ended. In the hills, too, it has dwindled to sporadic eruptions. The jealousies and resentments of the tribes of Manipur have turned back on one another, instead of at the state – India’s working definition of national integration. The commandos, too, have renounced the worst of their habits. A decades-long curfew has lifted. In Imphal’s blasted economy, there are new blooms of life: ATMs, espresso machines, a Thai eatery open well past sundown [The Guardian].
The tribes-resenting-each-other has already begun; as early as September 2015, the Meiteis and the Kukis had been clashing over the issue of bringing the entire state under the Inner Line Permit system (at present applicable only in the hills and for the communities there; detailed extensively here). Among the last throws of the dice by the former Chief Minister was an attempt to polarise the Nagas and the Kukis through the creation of the new districts; this was what had led to the more-than-100-days-old blockade by the Naga groups.
The past in some ways still shadows the future; on the day in 2009 when Herojit pulled the trigger on the unarmed 22-year old Sanjit, the superior who was present at the scene in person and who gave him the order to shoot was Akoijam Jhalajit; today, he is the Superintendent of Police (Imphal West). Back in 2009, he claimed to have gotten permission for the encounter from the Manipur Director General of Police, Yumnam Joykumar, and the Chief Minister himself; while the then-CM, along with the state Congress, is no longer in the limelight, the then-DGP is the now-Deputy Chief Minister in the Manipur BJP government.
We leave you with one last case to ponder upon.
On March 4, 2009, Mohammad Azad Khan had been resting with his family on the veranda of their village home when police commandos arrived to take him. The family resisted, and they were locked in a room. They watched through a window as he was led out to a field and shot in the back. Azad Khan was 12 years old [Scroll.in]